Budget 2022 Reactions: Digital technology takes centre-stage in health budget

New open platform for 'National Digital Health Ecosystem' announced as part of Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission. Industry members react positively

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New Delhi: Technology has taken a centre-stage for the healthcare sector in the Budget 2022 presented in the Parliament by the Union Minister of Finance, Nirmala Sitharaman. Two new digitally underpinned schemes have been announced which indicate the key role that digital technology is playing in expanding the access of health and medical care across the country.
Finance Minister announced the roll out of a new open platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem. It will comprehensively consist of digital registries of health providers and health facilities, unique health identity, consent framework, and shall provide universal access to health facilities.
Sitharaman acknowledged that the pandemic has accentuated mental health problems in people of all ages. In order to provide better access to quality mental health counselling and care services, a ‘National Tele Mental Health Programme’ has been announced. This will include a network of 23 tele-mental health centres of excellence, with NIMHANS being the nodal centre. The International Institute of Information Technology-Bangalore (IIITB) will provide technology support.
The strengthening of health infrastructure, speedy implementation of the vaccination programme, and the nation-wide resilient response to the current wave of the pandemic, are evident for all, Finance Minister noted.
Industry reactions
Reacting to the budget, Dr. Rana Mehta, Partner and Leader Healthcare, PwC India said, “The pandemic has caused a silent global mental health epidemic. The use of telemedicine to diagnose and treat such patients has proved to be highly effective given the unobtrusive nature of the interaction which also ensures patient privacy. Given the shortage of mental health professionals, especially in rural areas, telemedicine will greatly enhance accessibility for patients requiring psychiatric help.
In his comments, Amol Naikawadi, Joint Managing Director, Indus Health Plus said “The government’s decision on creating an open platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem is highly appreciated. This will help in maintaining digital registries of health providers and health facilities, unique health identity and universal access to health facilities. Also, with the increasing incidences of mental health during pandemic, the government’s step to develop a national tele mental health program for better access to quality mental health counseling and care is appreciable. The decision to open 23 tele health centres to boost the healthcare sector and make it more accessible for people who are living in the remotest area of the country is a welcome decision.”
“However, the government should have also focused on preventive healthcare for NCDs as it plays most important role in keeping India Healthy. Healthy India can play most important role in achieving all the objectives our country has in short and long term,” added Naikawadi.
Vikram Thaploo, CEO Apollo Telehealth, says “The launch of the National Tele Mental Health Program which will include a network of 23 tele mental health centres of excellence with NIMHANS being the nodal centre and IIIT Bangalore providing technology support is a welcome move by the government to augment the use of telemedicine services as well as provide support to people with mental health disorders. Also, an open platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem will be rolled out and it’ll further help in strengthening the healthcare services within the country. It will consist of digital registries of health providers and health facilities, unique health identity and universal access to health facilities. The increased investment towards Health Infrastructure and focus on a holistic approach to health is seen as a testimony of the commitment to building stronger health systems in the country.”
Nikkhil K Masurkar, Executive Director, ENTOD Pharmaceuticals says, “A well structured and a forward looking budget encompassing all sectors and detailed steps for implementation. Healthcare and well-being has received top priority in this budget. The roll out of the the National Digital Health Ecosystem that will consist of digital registries of health providers and health facilities, unique health identity and universal access to health facilities along with the national tele-mental health program shows the government’s committment towards improving and enhancing healthcare in India. As the future of manufacturing is driven with robotics and other automation technologies, we also appreciate the announcement of PLI schemes to create manufacturing global champions under AtmaNirbhar Bharat. I am hopeful and happy about the changes on the healthcare, which is an important area for India. The key is in its implementation.”
“It’s highly disappointing that the government didn’t mention anything about the spending on healthcare expenditure in the presentation of Union Budget 2022. However, the digital infra push right from health, banking to education has been the major highlight. The announcement of rolling out National Digital Health Ecosystem will give a major push to our nationwide digital registries of health providers and health facilities amidst the pandemic. Even the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman acknowledged the unprecedented crisis and began her budget speech by expressing empathy to those who suffered during the pandemic,” says Sugandh Ahluwalia, Chief of Strategy, Indian Spinal Injuries Centres.
Dr Aashish Chaudhry  Managing Director, Aakash Healthcare and Aakash Group of Companies, Dwarka mentions, “The Union Budget has built the groundwork and provided a blueprint for the economy over the next 25 years. We are happy with the decision to create an open platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem. This will include digital registers of health professionals and facilities, a unique health identity, and universal access to health care facilities. The pandemic has brought the subject of mental health to the forefront. For this, the government has announced a national telemental health programme. This would undoubtedly improve access to high-quality mental health counselling and treatment services.
Budget 22 is visionary and focused on implementing major steps to revitalize the healthcare industry including driving healthcare penetration underpinned by technology thrust and access, says Dinesh Chauhan, CEO, CORE Diagnostics.
“The introduction of National Tele Mental health to access quality mental health services is a much-appreciated move, considering the rise of pandemic accentuated mental health problems in India. While there has been no significant announcement related to the Diagnostics sector, it is encouraging to see the government focusing on the PPP model and digital health which will further ensure accessibility and availability of quality healthcare services in remote locations. We will continue to bring significant change in the diagnostics space with our continued investments in developing sophisticated  diagnostics for early detection and outcome-based line of treatment for patients,” adds Chauhan.
Siraj, Dhanani, CEO and Founder, InnAccel Technologies says, “As a health and medical device manufacturing MSME Start Up, we welcome the increased focus on employability, e-skilling, employment generation in the MSME sector with an allocation of nearly Rs 2 lac crore for MSME Sector. The fact that there is an emphasis to create nearly 60 lakh jobs.”
“On the health front we welcome the announcement for an open platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem that will consist of digital registries of health providers and health facilities, unique health identity and universal access to health facilities.We also welcome governments assistance announcement and acknowledgement that Artificial Intelligence has huge opportunity for sustainability and growth and as an organization will continue of increasing the role, presence, and R&D of Artificial Intelligence in our medical devices and products,” adds Dhanani.